Padded Defensive Garments
The term 'padded armour' (aka 'cloth armour', 'fabric armour', 'linen armour', etc), refers to any defensive
garment which uses padding, quilting, stuffing or layering in its construction, whether worn alone or in
combination with hard (metal) armours.
Obviously, 'leather armour' is any armour made using leather - which includes quilted and padded leather, cour
bouilli (leather that's been boiled, hardened, and shaped), and armour of hardened and lacquered animal skins.
Going on to the modern day, it could be said that modern body armour, such as Kevlar, as used by the police
and military, is the descendant of historical 'soft' defensive armour.
Historical Padded Armour
The one fact that should be remembered while reading anything to do with padding is that there are no 'facts'
when dealing with padded armour.
Well, very few, anyway. For most of the periods during which defensive padding was worn the evidence is
sketchy at best. Very few garments survive - and the earliest of the handful of extant examples dates to
(probably) the fourteenth century AD.
This is most likely because padded armour was built to do a job - once it had worn out, and could no longer do
that job it was either discarded or recycled (although, of course, this is conjecture).
Pictorial depictions in works of art become much more common after the beginning of the thirteenth century AD
- this could be due in part to the increase in art surviving, and the increase in 'realistic' art. Prior to the
introduction of 'realistic' art and painting it can be very difficult to tell exactly what is depicted in an illustration or
carving, and opinions can differ enormously. Naturally, I don't mean the kind of realism we think of when we
think of the great renaissance masters, but the first steps on the road to what became that pinnacle.
Written references do exist regarding padding, but of course, much as we'd wish them to, they do not involve
neat detailed descriptions, and 'how to make' instructions. Allusions to padding in contemporary material didn't
need such details, any more than a modern piece of writing would need to give a detailed explanation of a t-
shirt or a skirt.
All this is coupled with the fact that some of the societies that may have used padding were largely verbal,
rather than literate.
In many cases, theories about construction methods and materials can be educated guesses at best. Even
when pieces of padded armour survive, it cannot be assumed that the materials and construction were
generally in use in all places. There may have been huge differences in the materials used, and in the way
those materials were used, not to mention differences in the patterns and styles.
Consequently, if the terms 'it may be', 'it's thought', 'it could be', or 'probably', appear quite a lot in this piece,
forgive me. It's the nature of the beast!
The First Defensive Padding.
The general scarcity of evidence, especially at earlier dates, has led some people to the belief that padding
was not worn earlier than the 12th - 13th century, or even the 14th!
In reality, defensive quilting, padding and leather almost certainly date back to antiquity, and hav probably
been worn for several millennia.
Defensive Padding and Quilting in Antiquity.
According to surviving evidence, quilted, fabric, or felted 'armour' seems to have first been worn in the
Egyptian New Kingdom, at least as early as the 14th century BC. (Obviously it may have been worn earlier
than that and simply not recorded.)
Many reliefs show what seems to be a stiffened, triangular flap of what may be quilted linen or felt, worn at the
front of the loin cloth, including one in a tomb at Tell-el-Amarna which shows close combat Egyptian infantry,
and foreign soldiers in Egyptian service. Nearly all of them wear this apparently stiffened groin protection,
although the shapes differ a little.
Another relief, also from the 14th century BC shows soldiers wearing textile head protection. There are clear
lines on the relief, which may simply indicate a striped fabric, or may depict quilting. It's also interesting to note
that no metallic head protection from this period of the Egyptian civilisation has ever been found.
Scale armour was definitely used by the Egyptians, although probably only by those wealthy enough to afford
it. Surviving fragments of the metal plates in the Metropolitan Museum in New York would indicate that the
scales were attached to a 'coat' or 'tunic' of linen or leather. It has been suggested that this ' coat' may have
been padded or quilted to lessen the impact of blows.
A scaled tunic is depicted in a wall painting at Thebes, in the tomb of Kenamon.
Rameses II is shown wearing a garment made of this type in a relief depicting his victory at Qadesh, at the
Rameseum, also at Thebes.
Later soldiers are depicted wearing what may have been a quilted 'cuirass' (sleeveless waist length jerkin) of
linen or leather, possibly edged in leather, and fastening with ties at the back or side.
The Assyrians and Mytannians seem usually to be shown wearing scale armour. No one can say whether
padding or fabric armour was also worn, or whether the scales were metal, as with the Egyptian versions, or
some other material such as leather, but it would be a distinct possibility that the scales were attached to a
linen or leather backing, as with the Egyptian example mentioned above.
The Sumerians are shown in contemporary art wearing skirts or kilts, which may have been made up of tufts
of unspun wool, goat, or other animal hair. Whether a 'fashion' or for defense, or some other reason, we will
never know for sure, but it's thought there may have been a defensive property to them.
Reliefs at Medinet Habu portray Philistines wearing body armour which appears to be horizontally striped - it
could be a depiction of horizontal quilting, or, it's been suggested, of a leather garment of overlapping strips.
The Medinet reliefs also depict Sherden warriors wearing 'tunics' that some historians believe may have been
of padded or quilted linen or leather.
The Greeks knew a garment called a 'spolas' which was mentioned by Xylophone. It's believed that this may
have been a garment made of leather, or at least one which included leather. Some also believe that versions
may have been made of quilted wool or felt, and that there may have been versions with linen outers.
Some believe the 'spolas' was a stand-alone garment, worn without metal armour, while others think a version
may have been worn by the Hoplites under their cuirasses, as a sort of arming tunic.
The latter idea is based on a cup from c. 500BC, showing Hoplites dressing. Some of the men are shown
without their cuirasses, and appear to wearing a short, waist length garment that looks almost fluffy - possibly
wool or felt - it also seems to be quilted.
Several other illustrations show tunic-like garments that it has been suggested may be of a blanketing material,
or perhaps of felt.
The idea of stand alone padding is supported by the suggestion that Hoplites gradually gave up wearing the
cuirass in favour of lighter equipment that allowed greater agility (although the cuirass was still worn well into
the Peloponnesian Wars).
Of course it is entirely possible that the use of the 'spolas' altered over time.
It has been suggested that a garment similar to the 'spolas' may have been worn by the Thracians.
Another garment which is mentioned is the 'perizōma', which may have been a kind of kilt, or apron-like
garment. Such a garment is shown being worn with a cuirass, presumably for additional protection. This skirt
is sometimes shown being worn instead of the pteruges, and sometimes worn beneath them. It is hard to tell
from the depictions whether they do show the 'perizōma', or whether it may simply show a long 'spolas'. We
will probably never know, especially since it's not outside the realms of possibility that both were worn
Several pictures show something like padding being worn under greaves - no one can be sure of what
material they were made, or indeed how they may have been constructed. It has been suggested that they
may have been a pad worn under the whole greave to absorb the impact of blows, or that they were simply
rolls of cloth worn only at the top and bottom edges of the greave to prevent chafing of the leg, or even just a
piece of cloth placed behind the greave for the same purpose. Again, it is perfectly possible that all
suggestions are correct.
The Psoloi had minimal armour, if any. They are shown in illustrations protecting themselves with animal